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tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

Archive for partial manuscript

rules are good until they rule you

Earlier this evening, I read an online article from an online digest for writers that included submission tips for querying an agent, most of which I had heard many times, including this one:

3. Make sure your work is edited, revised and polished. Rewriting is a crucial step to bettering your work, so be sure to have trusted peers give you an honest critique, or consider seeking a professional freelance editor to evaluate it. And never query an agent for a novel until the work is complete.

A good rule to follow, on average.

However, sometimes hard and fast rules can be too hard and fast. Often newer writers, myself included, cling to rules so steadfastly that it’s just plain silly or shortsighted to do so, and we end up cutting off our noses to spite our faces in the process.

Here’s an example.

I had some back and forth conversations with an agent who expressed an interest in my writing though he passed on the work I was pitching. He encouraged me to try writing something he could sell, for starters, citing a few writers for me to read, perhaps to emulate.

So even though he didn’t pick up my romantic comedy, I was hardly discouraged. I was encouraged. And I got an idea for a book in the genre he said he could sell and pitched it to him with only three chapters complete, fueled by a  tremendous fire in my belly for the theme of my book.

He wrote back to me thusly:

“I’d be happy to see it when you have a substantial portion completed. Say 100 pages?”

When I mentioned that I had a 100-page partial ready to send an agent on another writing site, everyone flipped out like I had just confessed to freebasing cocaine.

“NO!!!! Don”t do that! Never send a partial if your ms isn’t finished. Learn to listen to people smarter and more experienced than you (you pewling spawn). Agents never request partials of unfinished manuscripts from unpublished writers. Learn the rules. Follow the rules. Blah, blah, blah.”

(I added the ‘pewling spawn’ part because ever since Captain Hook said it in Peter Pan I’ve wanted to use it–you get the idea.)



I was shocked that this torrent of censure was unleashed on me without anyone bothering to ask me what exactly the agent had requested.

Unbeknownst to these folks, I heard that rule at least 50 times since I began writing creatively, and I said, in my defense, “Well, just a minute. The agent said, (and I quote) that he’d like to read my partial.” And referred them to the response he sent me verbatim, listed above.

Still they expressed their incredulity at this request.

Funny. I had taught English for ten years and reading comprehension for five, but I wasn’t smart enough to interpret the meaning of sixteen words in two sentences?

Can you spell condescension?

I’m a rule-following gal for the most part and especially dutiful when I’m trying to get something I really want. I’ve broken some rules in writing (though not deliberately–sheer ignorance), but I’d never do something deliberately to jeopardize my success as a writer.

Nor will I follow a rule blindly when it would absolutely be of no advantage to me to do so. If agents make the rules, aren’t they at liberty to relax them when it’s in their best interest? Isn’t the writer at liberty to respond accordingly when it’s in her best interest to do so?

Only a complete and utterly gutless moron would decline to send 100 pages of a unfinished manuscript if an agent (gasp) broke his own rule or bent the industry standard and requested it.

Though I have my flaws, being gutless isn’t one of them.

In fact, I had read on other sites that this agent really likes to take on a story, which some writers may not appreciate, but I certainly would. Coming from him, such an overture makes sense. I did my research, which suggests I’m not a moron either.

I thought we all read enough allegorical dramas (The Handmaid’s Tale, for one) about what happens when people or a society becomes more concerned with following the rules for rules’ sake than about thinking logically and independently about their allegiance to certain rules. Well, at least I have.

No, I haven’t sent off that partial yet even though I have more than a hundred pages because I don’t think it’s strong enough. But if I get 100 pages where I want them, I intend to send them.

Because an agent asked me to. Because rules are great until they need to be overruled.

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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.


    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.